London, Stonehenge and Shakespeare, Oh My!

By Delphi A. ’18
Photos By Hayden F. ’20

We got through the security at Philadelphia International Airport with plenty of time to spare so Ms. Wolanin separated the 13 of us into two groups — Delphi Red Boots, and Mitch Mahoney — and sent us on an airport scavenger hunt. We had to ask strangers to name Shakespeare shows, take a photo defining ufology and many other quirky or theater-related prompts. Back at our gate, the scores were tallied (Delphi Red Boots was in the lead). Seven hours later, we landed in London.

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Since it was morning local time, we had to push through the haze of exhaustion that hung over us and do a walking tour of the city. Our amazement quickly overpowered our tiredness. We rode the Tube and took a double-decker bus. We saw the statue of William Shakespeare in Leicester Square and almost got drenched by a fountain. From the top of the London Eye we could see over the tops of many of the buildings we had seen on foot, and huge expanses of the city we didn’t have time to see close up. After a dinner of meat pies and mashed potatoes, we made the way to our hotel and our rooms. We had been awake for around 32 hours.

The next morning we set out for some of the major landmarks, Trafalgar Square, Whitehall and Westminster Abbey to start. From there we headed to Buckingham Palace, home of the Queen, whom we were lucky enough to see. Many photos later we were on our way to Windsor Castle, the Queen’s favorite home, a building with 1,000 rooms. We got back to the city with just enough time to grab some delicious hamburgers before popping over to a local theater to see our first show, the Royal Shakespeare Company’s performance of “Hamlet.” Intense and emotional, the show left us with lots to discuss.

The next morning we had a theater workshop that began with us warming up our bodies by jumping in unison and then in rounds. As more steps were added we learned that the simple act of jumping and clapping can be quite difficult. Next, we attempted to copy the walk of someone in the room, learning not only how challenging it is to imitate such a seemingly simple action, but also how our own way of walking may be unique. Finally, we attempted to tell stories using only our bodies frozen in a scene. As actors who spend a lot of time memorizing lines, it was eye-opening to tell a story without any sound.

After an afternoon that included a trip to the British Museum and some spirited Scrabble in a café basement, we made our way to the next show, “The Play That Goes Wrong.” The comedy about all the things that can go wrong during a performance hit close to home for all of us actors and technicians. There were many moments when we thought, “That has totally happened to us.” It was relatable and had me in tears of laughter.

The next day we left early for Stratford-upon-Avon, the birthplace of William Shakespeare. First, we stopped at Anne Hathaway’s cottage. (Not that Anne Hathaway.) Shakespeare and his wife grew up in the same town. Next, we headed to Trinity Church, the final resting place of the Bard himself. We stood in reverence barely a foot from the stone marking Shakespeare’s grave. It had been raining when we entered the church, but when we left the sky was clear.

From where his days ended, we then journeyed to where they began. Our tour through the small home that Shakespeare grew up in included a sing-along with a man dressed in Elizabethan attire and playing a Renaissance instrument. Before we left, we ran into two Shakespearean actors who performed a monologue before asking some of us to join them in a scene from “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” not realizing that many of us are going to be in our own production of that show this April. After dinner back in London, we headed to the National Portrait Gallery, where we spent the remainder of our time before seeing “Mamma Mia!” Bright lights, with songs that make you want to dance, “Mamma Mia!” was a truly exhilarating experience that had us laughing and smiling.

The next day began with Ms. Wolanin’s proclamation: “It’s Globe day!” After a tour of the reconstructed Globe Theatre, we took an acting workshop in which Hayden F. ’20 and Ben K. ’21 got to perform the iconic balcony scene from “Romeo and Juliet.”

That afternoon we went on a tour of the city through the lens of Harry Potter, visiting many of the films’ locations and discussing the places that exist only in the magical world of green screens and movie studios. After that we got the chance to go to St. Paul’s Cathedral to participate in Evensong, an evening service.

After dinner, we headed out on the second themed tour of the day, but this one was much darker. As we walked down the back alleys of Whitechapel, a district in London’s East End, we heard the gruesome and bloodcurdling stories of the Jack the Ripper murders. We headed back to our hotel, hoping not to have nightmares.

On the way to Bath, we stopped at Stonehenge for a tour and plenty of photo opportunities. We discovered you cannot actually touch the stones as there are still many artifacts beneath the earth that we could disturb by walking above them. It was still very eye-opening to stand so close to such an ancient structure. In Bath, we saw the interior of the well preserved Roman baths. A monk stood by the main bath, blessing all travelers. The next morning we got a chance to visit a henge with stones we could actually touch, in the small town of Avebury. The wind whipped our hair around us as we strolled the beautiful countryside. It seemed we were as far from the city as we could possibly be.

Back in London, we made a fast shopping visit to Harrod’s, took the obligatory photo walking across Abbey Road, then we spent some time at the Sherlock Holmes museum at 221b Baker St. We went to see platform 9¾, and as we were leaving Kings Cross, we were caught in brief hailstorm. We ate a delicious curry outside the Tower of London, and then headed to our final performance, “The Comedy About A Bank Robbery,” a dark comedy with an even darker twist in the second act. The show drew us in and made us gasp.

As we went to bed our on our last night, we played cards and reminisced. The feeling was unanimous that the trip had been a both educational and magical experience.